$ 1.8 billion plan to stay in the race for the perfect computer
This Thursday, Emmanuel Macron unveils the French strategy on quantum computing. At stake ? 1.8 billion euros invested over five years to stay in the race for supremacy
- Quantum computers promise to solve different types of problems, sometimes still insoluble, in record time, sending back to prehistoric times even the most powerful of our current computers.
- This race for quantum supremacy - that perfect quantum computer that could theoretically solve any computation - has intensified in recent years. And France is determined not to sum it up as a duel between China and the United States.
- This Thursday morning, Emmanuel Macron thus unveils France's quantum strategy, a plan worth 1.8 billion euros invested over the next five years. In the quantum computer itself, but also in all the applications it could allow.
Artificial intelligence, nanoelectronics, hydrogen ... In recent years, Emmanuel Macron has multiplied the announcements of major investment plans in areas deemed strategic for the future of the country. The President of the Republic will add yet another by unveiling the “quantum strategy of France” this Thursday morning from the campus of the University of Paris-Saclay.
This 1.8 billion euro plan, combining public and private funds and spread over the next five years, aims to place France among the first countries to achieve "technological sovereignty" in this area of IT. Hurry up? The race for the quantum computer, with computational capacities that far surpass those of our classic computers, even the most powerful, has intensified in recent years. Behind, the stakes are colossal. From health to logistics via Defense. 20 Minutes helps you see more clearly.
What do quantum computers have more than our classical computers?
The "classic" computers, which we use today, process elementary information - called bits - which can only present one state among two possible: the 0 or the 1. It is the binary language that applies. even to the most powerful of our current computers and which shows its limits for the most complex calculations.
In the quantum computer, we no longer speak of bits but of quantum bits [or qubits]. As their name suggests, these qubits obey the laws of quantum mechanics which describe physical phenomena at the atomic scale (electron, photons, etc.). Among the astonishing properties of quantum physics, Sébastien Tanzili, research director at CNRS, head of the photonics and quantum information team, already cites “ quantum superposition”. "It allows a qubit to be in two energy levels at the same time." It can therefore be both 0 and 1. Sébastien Tanzili adds another property to this: “quantum entanglement, according to which we can link quantum objects that are a priori independent”. "Two qubits can thus be in a state of energy 0 and at the same time, in superposition, in a state of energy 1," he explains. And I say two for the example, we can bind a lot more qubits and control the state. "
These two principles - superposition and entanglement - allow qubits to have an infinity of states. And so to multiply the computing power of the quantum computer.
Is this the end of the tough problems with quantum computing?
Quantum computers are unlikely to replace classical computers, allowing us to surf the Internet, play videos, listen to music… Their promise, on the other hand, is to solve complex operations in a few minutes that would require dozens of jobs. years with a conventional computer. This is the step taken by Google, on October 23, 2019, by completing in 3 minutes and twenty seconds, with a quantum computer of its design, a calculation that would have taken 10,000 years otherwise.
However, everything is not so simple in quantum computing. “Calculation errors are still possible,” says Sébastien Tanzili. In a conventional computer, we know very well how to manage them with algorithms that make it possible to estimate their proportion in a calculation and to correct them. We do not yet have this mastery of quantum computing. The quantum properties on which it is based remain fragile, in particular, vis-à-vis the environment. Vibration or radiation from hot objects nearby can cause your qubits to lose overlap and skew calculations. "
When will there be concrete applications of quantum computing?
As we have just seen, reducing errors is the first challenge yet to be taken up. Another is “scaling up”. We're talking about the number of qubits that a single computer can use. “In ten years or so, we have gone from a few controllable qubits to just under a hundred,” explains Sébastien Tanzili. It would take several thousand to have a "large scale" quantum computer. "That is to say capable of performing any calculation which is impossible today. “At the rate we are going, this quantum supremacy could be achieved in the next ten or twenty years,” says the CNRS research director.
One of the objectives of the strategy unveiled this Thursday is to get involved in this race. Without, however, devoting the 1.8 billion euros to it. An intermediate step is already making it possible to test the potential of quantum computer simulators which are beginning to be developed. They could already make it possible to solve a good number of problems that our current supercomputers come up against. "This work is crucial because it will allow all the players who develop software and algorithms to prepare for the arrival of the perfect quantum computer," specifies an advisor to Emmanuel Macron. It would be unfortunate to have it in your hands but not know how to communicate with it. "
What will quantum computing do?
Health could be one of the big winners. “To manufacture a drug, we need to know how to arrange molecules with each other,” illustrates Sébastien Tanzili. There are a multitude of possible configurations and finding the right one requires a lot of computing power. A functioning quantum computer, even using only a hundred qubits, could accelerate the discovery of new drugs or vaccines. "
Likewise, a quantum computer could make it possible to develop new materials for industry, optimize financial markets, revolutionize navigation models - to the point of rendering GPS obsolete? -, improve climate change, simulation models… Still, other sectors, more sensitive because they affect national sovereignty, are also concerned. Quantum technology could thus make it possible to make perfectly secure communications and, conversely, to break a large part of the computer security systems used today ...
So much for the promises of quantum computing. At least the ones we can guess. "A large number of applications remain to be discovered," says Sébastien Tanzili.
Where is France on quantum?
France is not starting from zero. "We have had a rather very good positioning in this area from the start," insists at the Elysée. We have cutting-edge scientific laboratories on the subject, including the Saclay Nanoscience Center where Emmanuel Macron is going this Thursday. We also have an ecosystem of around twenty start-ups, some of which already offer applications on the market, and, behind, large manufacturers (Total, Orano, EDF, etc.) that are developing quantum technologies or will use them. "
The whole objective of this new strategy is to bring together these different actors in the same plan co-constructed together, we say in the entourage of Emmanuel Macron. It is also not to be left behind by other countries. This plan of 1.8 billion euros over five years that Emmanuel Macron will announce on Thursday (see box) will position France on the third step of the countries which invest the most in quantum computing. “We would be around 200 million euros per year against 60 million today, details an adviser to Emmanuel Macron. According to our estimates, the United States and China are investing around 400 million euros. "
Computing power, sensors, training… How will these 1.8 billion euros be used?
Of these 1.8 billion euros that Emmanuel Macron will announce this Thursday for the next five years, 200 million will come from European credits and 550 million from the private sector (industrialists, investment funds…), details the Elysee. The remaining 1.05 billion euros will be provided by the State. Part of these credits (550 million euros) will be carried by the Future investment program. Research organizations like the CNRS will also help out.
Of these 1.8 billion still, 800 million will be invested in computing, both in quantum computer simulators (the intermediate stage), and in scaling up to the perfect quantum computer. The Elysée ensures not to forget the rest. 250 million euros will thus be invested in quantum sensors, another 150 million in post-quantum cryptology, 325 million in quantum communications….